Fast-paced and amusing, ‘Yo-Kai Watch: The Movie Event’ is a Japanese animated fantasy action film aimed seemingly at children but in Japan probably has a following of all ages and is based on a video game. The hero of the stories is a boy who can use a watch to see invisible spirits, mostly friendly, who are all around us and appears to be an origin story. Nate has been given a watch that allows him to see the Yo-Kai. When the watch is stolen, Nate and some friends find they have to travel back in time sixty years where Nate’s grandfather is inventing the magical watch because he needs it to fight off the wicked Yo-Kai, commanded by the evil woman, Tokio Ubaune. ‘Yo-Kai Watch: The Movie Event’ was directed by Shigeharu Takahashi and Shinji Ushiro from a screenplay by Yoichi Kato.
The film is really too fast-paced to follow, but has lots of humour, particularly in its jabs at ‘Star Wars’. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
This film is my first contact with the ‘Yo-Kai Watch’ franchise, though I am familiar with Yo-Kai in Japanese folklore. The concept is that there are invisible spirits, the Yo-Kai, all around us. Most just benign but, as this film proves, not all are. In this film, they have bizarre shapes, like balloons and mammoth floating cats. They watch us behind their cloak of invisibility and sometimes take part in human affairs. Yo-Kai have shown up in a number of fantasy films that appear now and again. My introduction was in the film ‘Yo-Kai Watch: The Movie Event’ and seems to be an animated videogame series that is popular in Japan.
Apparently, in this animated series, a boy has a magic watch that allows him to see the Yo-Kai that are everywhere. Yo-Kai are particularly Japanese-feeling spirits, taking fearful or strange-looking forms. In other films, one is a woman who can stretch her neck like a fire hose. Another is in the shape of an umbrella. Folklore says that Yo-Kai are all around us in legions but we cannot see them.
Our story is about Nate who owns a magical watch that allows him to see the Yo-Kai where the rest of us see nothing. Nate needs to save the world of sixty years ago where an evil Yo-Kai has plans for ruling the world. Nate goes back in time sixty years with two Yo-Kai friends, Whisper and Jibanyan, the first a balloon and the second a cat that changes size. There, he joins forces with an unexpected ally, Nate’s grandfather, who at sixty years younger is just about Nate’s age, so they make a perfect pair. Did I miss something? If the current world is working okay then isn’t it obvious the world had not been stolen sixty years before and don’t we know that Grandfather Nathan must have live long enough to do what was necessary to become a grandfather?
The action is often funny and paced like water in a fire hose. According to Wikipedia, the 95 minute film was the highest-grossing Japanese film at the Japanese box office in 2015.
This film’s rapid-pacing and the imaginative and strange-looking animated creatures may appeal to some children, though others may have trouble getting used to what will likely be an animated view of a culture foreign to them. It will be an opportunity for children to learn that there are more cultures than what they are used to seeing.
American viewers, especially adults, may find this very different world a little strange and confusing. Don’t worry they or you will be pulled into the action soon enough. Understanding what is going on will come with a little time. I rate ‘Yo-Kai Watch: The Movie Event’ a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. Variations on the title may be ‘Yokai’ rather than ‘Yo-Kai’ and it may be called ‘The Movie Event’. The film will get a limited release on October 15, 2016.
Mark R. Leeper
(c) Mark R. Leeper 2016